Land in the Sky: Red Wings

I need new boots for an upcoming trip to the mountains of Vermont. So I make the long drive to an outdoor gear store in a fancy shopping plaza. Wikipedia says it is the third oldest shopping plaza in the region. It opened in 1959, the year after I was born. One of the original tenants in the shopping plaza was Howard Johnson’s. Today there’s a Starbucks. I tell you all this because historic shopping fun facts are more interesting than the shoddy boots they have for sale at the outdoor gear store. But I do pick up a couple other items I need: freeze-dried mac & cheese and a small propane canister for my stove.

At the checkout, the friendly young clerk looks at my items and says: “Where you headed?” I tell her nowhere. This fazes her a bit but, still smiling, she asks: “What’s your phone number?” I hate how checkout clerks in corporate-owned stores are required to ask every customer for their phone number. I tell her I have no phone. The smile on her face goes away. Then she asks: “How about a rewards card number. What’s your rewards card number?” I tell her I don’t have one of those either. Now she is utterly bewildered. For a moment, she looks at me like I’m some sort of escaped felon. Then she puts on a spare smile to get through the rest of this transaction. It makes her mouth look like a doughnut. To help her feel better, I pay with a credit card.

I head home without the boots. I resign myself to the prospect of duct-taping the old ones and making do. I’ve done that before. But then, along a quiet back road, I spot a Western wear store with a sign saying “Red Wing Shoes.” In my younger and more adventuresome years in the West, Red Wings were my mountaineering boot of choice. My buddies, far superior mountaineers than I, made fun of my footwear, but those boots made me happy. They made me look, if not climb, like Norman Clyde. I don’t know why I ever stopped wearing them.

I pull into the parking lot of the Western wear store. The place looks like an unpainted old barn. Arranged in the storefront window are several plastic geese wearing hats made of plastic fruit. I have no idea what this means. Yet it heartens me and I walk into the store. Inside smells of fresh leather. I’m greeted by an older woman, older than me anyway.

“Whatcha want, hon?” She calls me hon. I tell her I want Red Wings. “Come with me, hon. They’re right over here. What’s your size?” I tell her. She goes into the back and comes out with a box. “Here ya go, hon. There’s some seats over there. Try ‘em on. Take your time.” I do. They’re perfect. I say I’ll take them. “That’s great, hon.” She doesn’t ask me where I’m going with my new Red Wings. She doesn’t ask for my phone number. And there’s no rewards program in this offbeat bootery, except she calls everybody “hon”.

On my way out the door, she says: “Those are some mighty fine work boots, hon. Now go do them proud.”